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Augie scientist enjoys getting out into the field
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Photo: John Greenwood
Radish article about taking three walks in the same woods, the trails of Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island. Once with biologist Tim Muir, once with a meditation instructor, and once with an artist.
ROCK ISLAND -- The moment a thin, dark garter snake slithered into a clump of grasses overhanging a boardwalk at Black Hawk State Historic Site, it was clear Dr. Tim Muir really is a biologist used to collecting animals in the field.

Dr. Muir, a faculty member at Augustana College in Rock Island, dropped down into a crouch and moved the grasses aside with his bare hands to see if the snake was still there. No dice.

He wasn't always so at ease in the outdoors. Dr. Muir, who studies the physiology of animals, grew up in a suburb outside of Detroit, in which "time outdoors" generally meant being out on a athletic field, not in a woods catching animals.

Now raising two sons of his own -- Liam, 4, and Jude, 2 -- he often brings them to Black Hawk State Historic Site to visit the nature center and take walks in the forest. He's come to appreciate how such direct experiences with our natural surroundings can foster a sense of place.

"Even just to know what kind of tree is in your backyard gives you a sense of rootedness; I hope our boys have that sense," he said. It's a direct experience he hopes to pass on to his students. His research into how cold-blooded animals, turtles in particular, function in low temperatures often brings him out into nature, and he regularly brings students along. They gather turtle eggs to monitor the hatchlings in later months. "Turtles hibernate above the frost line, and as a result their blood turns to ice," he explained.

Even though insects and plants aren't directly in his field of study, Dr. Muir derives a clear sense of pleasure from being able to give a name to those he passes while walking in the woods. You don't have to be a scientist, either, to enjoy being able to identify plants and animals, he said.

"If you stay out long enough, you'll see something you've never seen before. Then it's more than just a walk," he said.

It's an experience that isn't just restricted to being in the woods, he said. The unexpected can arise in our own backyards as well, if we take time to notice. Sometimes, while in his own yard with his children, Dr. Muir will give himself a few minutes to identify bird species.

"You only expect three or four (birds), but it's so easy to get to eight or nine species in a short time," he said. "That's comforting to me. Biodiversity is down worldwide, so to know it's not one species of bird -- it's a community out there that is more complex than it is simple -- that is a good thing."






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  Today is Wednesday, Sept. 17, the 260th day of 2014. There are 105 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: We are told league merchants have paid no attention to the prohibition on selling ammunition, but continue to sell just as before the order was issued.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The Rev. R.F. Sweet, rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish, left for the East to visit his boyhood home in Boston before attending the general convention of the Episcopal Church in New York.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Dr. E.A. Anderson was named to succeed Dr. E.L. Kerns as head physician of the Modern Woodmen of America, and moved to Rock Island from Holdingford, Minn.
1939 -- 75 years ago: One week late, because of the outbreak of war, Dr. E.L. Beyer resumed his work as professor of romance languages at Augustana College. Dr. and Mrs. Beyer left Germany on the last train to the Belgian border.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Employees in Turnstyle stores in Moline and Davenport will vote Oct. 2 in an election set up by the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Employees will vote either for the Retail Clerk International or for no union.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Rock Island High School is considering a step to help teen moms stay in school and get their diploma. The school board is expected to vote tonight on instituting an on-site child care center.


(More History)